During spring practice, the big message Virginia Tech offensive line coach Curt Newsome tried to instill with us reporters after his unit got trampled by Stanford in the Orange Bowl was that he was looking for depth, and preferably a backup for each position along the offensive line.
That line of thinking became even more paramount when two days before training camp began, Virginia Tech announced starting right tackle Blake DeChristopher could miss up to six weeks with a pectoral injury and starting left guard Greg Nosal wasn’t ready to practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.
But on Tuesday, with almost two weeks of camp in the books, Newsome presented a much clearer picture of what his offensive line may look like in the fall. Nosal is already back practicing, and the coach said DeChristopher could be back by next week. He’s also got three reserve linemen he’s comfortable with using in game situations, including one with a few starts under his belt already.
“I think that shows we are deeper up front,” Newsome said.
Last year, Becton was expected to be the starting left tackle before a turf toe injury caused him to miss much of training camp and slowed him throughout the early portions of the season. Becton has bulked up to 326 pounds this summer — “I told him, ‘You don’t look a pound over 300,’ ” Newsome joked — but he remains behind redshirt senior Andrew Lanier on the depth chart.
“I think Andrew just kind of passed him. Guys get better at a different pace, and a year ago in camp, Andrew hadn’t had a good spring and had a really good camp a year ago and passed him up,” Newsome said. “But we feel comfortable with Nick Becton. We’re not afraid to play Nick. You plug in film and see him from a year ago and you see him at the end of the season, he was a heckuva lot better player than he was coming off the injury.”
Last season Lanier would come out of games every third series in favor of Becton. Newsome said the offensive staff still must discuss whether that will be the case again this year.
Wang, meanwhile, has come on strong throughout this offseason, following up a strong spring in which he was named the most improved offensive player with a solid showing in training camp. Newsome said the Ashburn native is currently working at both guard spots in case he’s needed at either during the season.
“He got better in a hurry, and all of a sudden we’ve got a pretty good football player,” said Newsome.
Via has been splitting the first-team reps with redshirt junior Vinston Painter all camp while DeChristopher nurses his injury. Via was the primary backup at right tackle last season despite an ACL injury during the previous offseason, and started three games at center as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
Via split time during spring practice this year at both right tackle and center, but when DeChristopher went down, the coaching staff scrapped that idea and had him focus on right tackle. It seems to be paying dividends.
“Settling him into one position has been a real help, although we could still get him some reps at center later on,” Newsome said. “I think he’s gotten a little more physical. He’s heavier than he was (292 pounds). … And then he’s been better in protection. He’s always been a solid run blocker.”
As for his starters, below you’ll find some more of Newsome’s thoughts:
On DeChristopher: “We gotta get Blake back, see where he is as far as being in shape. … Blake is a guy that’s been playing every snap since he’s been here and you gotta kind of fight him to get him out of there. That’s the way he is, which is a good thing. But we think he’ll be a better player if he watches a series or so.”
On Lanier’s offseason weight gain: “He hasn’t slowed down. He just needed it. You get in some one-on-one matchups where it’s not just strength. You need girth, and he’s got it now. He’s learned to play with it, but it really hasn’t slowed him down.”
On his entire starting unit: “I just like my room. There’s a bunch of guys in there that are helping younger guys, that have been there. You have four fifth-year seniors and four guys that played pretty good football on a team that scored some points. We did put some points on the board. I know we have some guys that can put it in the end zone, but we got to get in there way sometimes. And I think we did.”